Most teams that are good for three or four years or more eventually get to a World Series and usually win one. It’s harder now — with the multiple rounds of playoffs — to win a title. Which means we see teams that are really good, maybe even great, who never hoist the World Series trophy. Going back in history to when there were no divisions and only one team in each league went to the postseason, there have been many great teams that never won a title. Here are the best teams to never win a title.
Still the only team to lose three straight World Series, the Tigers were an offensive juggernaut. Despite being brushed aside rather easily in 1907 and 1908 by the Cubs in the “World’s Series”, the Tigers gave the Bucs a run for it the next fall but still came up short. The 1911 team got off to an amazing start fueled by an historic season by Ty Cobb, but they were eventually caught by the A’s. This team had two great Hall of Famers: Cobb and Wahoo Sam Crawford, and this was the best chance that duo had to win a championship.
1946-1950 Red Sox
For most of this five-year stretch the Red Sox were the second best team in the American League to the Yankees but they were also the second best team in baseball. With Hall of Fame left fielder Ted Williams, Hall of Fame second baseman Bobby Doerr, and All-Stars Vern Stephens, Johnny Pesky, and Dom DiMaggio, the Sox were loaded. The pitching staff wasn’t bad either (Mel Parnell and Ellis Kinder leading the way), but with that lineup Boston pounded opponents under a barrage of runs. They scored 907 runs in ’48, 896 in ’49, and 1,027 in 1950. They lost a playoff for the pennant in 1948 and were beaten by the Yankees on the final day of the regular season in ’49 to lose the pennant by a single game. Of course in 1946 they won the pennant but lost the Series in seven games to very good Cardinals team.
1957-1965 White Sox
Led by Hall of Fame manager Al Lopez for this entire nine-year stretch, the White Sox won 90 games five times and finished second five times (four times to the Yankees). They snagged their only pennant in 1959 and were a good match for the Dodgers but they were beaten in six games. Lopez’s teams were built around pitching (Early Wynn, Billy Pierce, Gary Peters, Joel Horlen, and Hoyt Wilhelm), defense (Luis Aparicio, Nellie Fox, Jim Landis), and the power/speed of Cuban star outfielder Minnie Minoso. After Lopez retired following the ’65 season the team kept purring along for a few years but never got to the Series again.
The Cubs are the only team on this list who didn’t make a postseason appearance. But that doesn’t diminish the talent they had: Ernie Banks, Ron Santo, Billy Williams, Fergie Jankins, Hall of Famers all. Add in Randy Hundley and Glenn Beckert and Don Kessinger, solid at catcher, second, and short and the Cubs had a formidable and consistent unit. The toughest near-miss to accept was ’69 when they blew a late-summer lead to the Mets to squander the pennant. He always said “nice guys finish last,” but for Cubs’ manager Leo Durocher during this stretch his orneriness could only get the team to three second place finishes.
1975-1979 Red Sox
Yaz, Reggie Smith, Dwight Evans, Carlton Fisk, Fred Lynn, Jim Rice, and Luis Tiant. The Red Sox were loaded in the 1970s but unfortunately they had to compete with the Orioles and Yankees. They narrowly lost a division title in ’72 and then battled for a few more sandwiched around the ’75 season when they fought the mighty Reds to a seventh game in the Fall Classic. Their 91 wins in 1979 were only good for third and then when Lynn and Fisk were lost to free agency, that Boston team’s chance was gone. In the end it was superior teams in Baltimore and New York who cost the 70’s BoSox a chance at a title. That and The Curse, of course.
My choice for the most talented team to never win a pennant, the Expos were loaded with great players in this era. They had: Gary Carter behind the plate; Tony Perez then Warren Cromartie and Al Oliver at first; Larry Parrish followed by Tim Wallach at third; Cromartie and then Tim Raines in left; Andre Dawson in center; and Ellis Valentine in right. Every one of those players was an All-Star as an Expo and other than Perez they were all in their primes. Steve Rogers anchored the pitching rotation with a solid and consistent core behind him that included Charlie Lea, Bill Gullickson, Scott Sanderson, and Ray Burris. Not shabby pitching at all, and then there was Jeff Reardon out of the pen to close out games. Hall of Fame skipper Dick Williams was in the dugout for most of the stretch. They had their best chance in 1981 when they pushed the Dodgers to a fifth game in the LCS, losing when LA scored a run in the ninth inning. Even though the Expos were playing in a tough NL East with the Phillies and Pirates, they went to the final weekend of the ’79 and ’80 seasons within a game of first place before losing the division by a slim margin each time.
Two appearances in the World Series, favorites each time, but the Indians failed to get it done. They won five straight division titles and six in seven years, but ultimately their core of Manny Ramirez, Kenny Lofton, Omar Vizquel, Jim Thome and the Alomar Bros. came up short. Their Achilles Heal? The starting pitching and an epic postseason performance by Pedro Martinez that cost them in 1999.
When you average 98 wins for a four-year stretch you’d expect to at least get to the World Series, but the Mariners never did. In 2001 they methodically piled up 116 wins to tie a major league record, but they lost in the LCS to the Yankees in five games, the second year in a row they were eliminated by New York. The biggest stars on the 116-win team were Edgar Martinez and Ichiro Suzuki while the rotation was very solid but not spectacular (anchored by Freddy Garcia, Jamie Moyer, and Aaron Sele). Bret Boone and Mike Cameron had out-of-their-mind seasons for the M’s but that “juice” couldn’t help them in October.
Rarely has a team had the best hitter and pitcher in the game and failed to win a title or at least come close. The Tigers were favorites in the 2012 Series but the Giants rather easily swept them. The following year Detroit had the best rotation in baseball and they were humming along set to go up 2-0 against Boston in the LCS when Big Papi changed the story. In these four seasons the Tigers produced three MVP awards, had a Triple Crown winner, two Cy Youngs, and had another former Cy Young winner in their rotation, but they never got that World Series trophy for Mr. Ilitch. It seems their window of opportunity in the Cabrera/Verlander era might be closing.
Dan Holmes is an author and baseball historian. He previously worked for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum and Major League Baseball. He once defeated George Brett in Texas Hold Em poker and faced Phil Niekro's knuckleball. He has two daughters and he writes regularly about baseball and many other topics.